[AML] Navajo Times Article

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Autore: arianne cope
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Nuovi argomenti: [AML] Beck, Leaving the Saints
Oggetto: [AML] Navajo Times Article
I haven't shared other press about my book, but this article was one was
interesting enough pass along.

Arianne Cope
...............................

Former LDS placement students take issue with novel

By Cindy Yurth
Special to the Navajo Times

    Poor Mary. Her mom put her in the LDS Church’s Indian Placement Program so
she could have a better life, but it seems she would have been better off
staying on the rez with her party-girl mother and her abusive, alcoholic
father.
    Try as she might to be good, Mary’s skin never turns “white and
delightsome” as promised in the Book of Mormon. Instead of a kinaaldá, she
gets a five-minute lecture in the middle of the night. Against her better
judgment, she marries the missionary who baptizes her and, trying for a son,
produces nine daughters before he leaves her.
    Fortunately, Mary isn’t real. She’s the heroine of Latter-Day Saint author
Arianne Cope’s new novel, “The Coming of Elijah,” which paints a dark view
of the church’s controversial effort to aid Native youngsters.
    But four Navajos who participated in the placement program — which placed
20,000 Native American children with LDS families between 1947 and 1996 —
think Cope is being a little hard on the program they credit with changing
their lives for the better.
    “I didn’t like the book,” declared Theresa Barbone Blackbird of Pueblo
Pintado, N.M., who joined the placement program in the 1970s at the age of
15. “It was so sad. I loved placement. Why would a (LDS church) member write
a book like this?”
    Cope, who grew up in Spanish Fork, Utah, where the novel is set, and now
lives in Cedar City, said she based the book on a number of interviews she
did with both former placement students and their foster families.
    “I found that although the program was born of good intentions, the results
in most cases were mixed,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Times. “There were
definitely some positive experiences that came from the program … But there
were also a lot of children who felt misplaced in the placement program.”
    Besides, the author confessed, “If the book had been merely positive, it
would have been more than dull, it wouldn’t have accomplished anything … I
want Navajos, Mormons, Navajo Mormons and everyone who reads it to take a
fresh look at their perceptions of race and culture.”
    Taking a fresh look at race and culture is one thing the placement program
itself accomplished among both its participants and the families who hosted
them.
    San Juan County, N.M. Commissioner Ervin Chavez, who was placed with three
different families in Utah’s Cache Valley as a teenager in the late ‘60s and
early ‘70s, said the program helped him see beyond race.
    “Growing up in Nageezi (Chapter), we didn’t meet very many Anglos,” he
said. “I thought of them as a lot different from us. But living with Anglos,
I could see that they put their pants on one leg at a time like me; they got
headaches like I did. To this day, when I meet someone, I honestly don’t
think of them as Native, Anglo, Black, Hispanic, whatever. I see them as an
individual.”
    Having been raised in a home where both parents were heavy drinkers, Chavez
felt relieved to be among the teatotaling Mormons.
    “It was nice to be in a house where there wasn’t a drop of alcohol, where
you didn’t have to see your parents staggering around,” he said. “I resolved
never to touch alcohol when I grew up, and to this day I’ve kept that
promise.”
    Chee Smith of White Horse Lake, N.M., takes it a step further. “If not for
the placement program, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you,” he said.
His parents, also alcoholics, became violent when they drank and sometimes
hit him, he said. He joined the placement program in fourth grade, mostly to
get out of the house.
    In tiny Clarkston, Utah, he found his niche.
    “I needed discipline at that point, and I got it,” he said. His foster
parents had a dairy farm, and he was expected to get up at 4 a.m. so he
could milk the cows before the school bus arrived. The heavy farm work built
muscles, and when he entered Sky View High School in Smithfield, Utah, he
decided to go out for cross-country.
    “I went to state three times,” he said, smiling at the memory.
    By the time Smith graduated from Sky View, he had athletic scholarship
offers from four different colleges. But his foster parents gave him what he
considered a better offer. He still tears up when he talks about it. “They
offered to pay all my expenses if I went on a mission for the church,” he
said. “I couldn’t believe anyone would do that for me.”
    Smith was sent on an LDS mission to Quito, Ecuador, where he learned
Spanish and enjoyed meeting people from various South American tribes. He
did eventually go to college, obtaining a civil engineering degree from
Brigham Young University.
    “You see me here, dressed nicely, going to church,” said Smith after
attending a service at the small LDS branch in Pueblo Pintado, where he’s
second councilor to the branch president. “If not for the placement program,
I’d be a drug addict or in jail. I may not even be here. I really believe
that.”
    Like Smith, who successfully ran for president of his chapter after coming
back to the reservation, Chavez and Marie Justice of Page, Ariz., another
placement program alumna, found themselves seeking leadership roles.
    “When I saw how people lived off the reservation, with running water and
electricity, I thought, ‘Why can’t Navajos have these things?’” Chavez
recalled. One of the first things he did after becoming Nageezi Chapter
president was to run some water lines.
    “It gave you something to strive for,” agreed Justice, now president of
United Mine Workers Union Local 1620 and a candidate for Navajo Nation
Council in the recent election. “I definitely set my sights higher because
of the placement program.”
    It wasn’t all roses, of course … Blackbird recalls being teased by a rough
group she calls “the urban farm boys” in Hyrum, Utah, where she was placed.
    “They called me ‘squaw’ and ‘wagon-burner,’” she recalled. “I didn’t even
know what that meant. I just ignored them.”
    But one day a friend overheard her being teased by an Anglo girl.
    “She was just hurling racial slurs at me, one after another,” Blackbird
recalled. “She wouldn’t stop. My friend, another placement student, came
over and beat her up. We both got in trouble, but that girl never called me
names after that.”
    Ironically, the placement kids had to endure teasing when they came back to
the rez for the summer as well.
    “I got called ‘Goody Two-Shoes’ because I wouldn’t smoke or drink with the
other kids,” Blackbird recalled. “I just said ‘Thank you.’ I mean, is that
supposed to be an insult?”
    Blackbird, Chavez and Smith, who all attended Sky View High, recall about a
dozen placement students at the school, mostly other Navajos. They often
chatted in their native language and got together for events.
    Justice, who was placed in a series of posh seaside communities in northern
California, had a different experience, being the only Native in her school.
    “There was plenty of brown skin,” she said. “I didn’t get singled out or
anything. Most people just thought I was Mexican.”
    But with no Navajos to converse with, she lost her language.
    “I had to learn it as an adult when I got back,” she said. “Even now, I’ll
be talking in Navajo, thinking I’m doing pretty good, and an elder will
correct me.”
    All four former placement students interviewed for this article have stayed
in contact with their foster families, but two — Chavez and Justice — have
drifted away from the church. Justice decided to return to the Navajo
traditional religion, and Chavez, when he goes to church at all, finds
himself heading for the Baptists.
    Smith and Blackbird, who is Relief Society president in the Pueblo Pintado
Branch, both stayed Mormon. But Blackbird hasn’t applied for a temple
recommend, the letter signed by an LDS bishop that states the holder has
fulfilled all the tenets of the religion and is worthy to enter the temple.
    “There are certain things from my tradition I want to hold onto that I
think prevent me from being temple-worthy,” she said. “Maybe some day I’ll
be able to let them go, but not yet.”
    That’s exactly the kind of thing the fictional Mary is struggling with in
“Elijah,” Cope said.
    “Her struggle is one we all go through, whether we’re Navajo, Mormon,
Jewish, Muslim, whatever,” she said in her e-mail. “We all must sift through
the good and bad that has been passed down to us and endeavor to pass down
only the good to our children.”
    Cope doesn’t believe Mary’s story is all that sad. “It is ultimately
redeeming,” she wrote. “Mary is able to embrace Navajo and Mormon cultures
and pass down the best of both to her daughter.”

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